Posts Tagged ‘Schneider’

First Bills Of 2011 Legislative Session Now Available For Review

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 9:22 am December 14th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Lobbyists and policy-makers who can’t wait to get a jump on the 2011 legislative session can start their reading assignments now.

Forty-four bills have already been drafted and pre-filed on the Legislature’s website in advance of the session that will begin Feb. 7.

Included in the 17 Assembly bills are three from John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, aimed at further combating child prostitution in Nevada. Hambrick won unanimous support for a bill in 2009 providing for civil penalties of up to $500,000 against those convicted of human trafficking of minor children.

Hambrick now wants to extend that effort next session by increasing sentences for those involved in such crimes, including those who purchase the sexual services of an underage child, and allowing victims to clear their criminal records under certain conditions so they can go on to productive lives.

There is also Senate Bill 1, which appropriates $15 million for the cost of the 2011 session. The bill is the first passed when the Legislature convenes.

Among the other 26 Senate bills drafted and on file is Senate Bill 2, the biennial effort by Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, to appropriate enough money to public education to meet or exceed the national average. Schneider has introduced the bill in previous sessions without success.

Senate Bill 16, requested by the Senate Government Affairs Committee, would make changes to Nevada’s prevailing wage law.

Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said the number of bills will grow significantly by Wednesday, when the approximately 155 measures sought by government entities must be pre-filed or they are deemed withdrawn. This list includes 91 measures from the executive branch, along with requests from the attorney general, Supreme Court, Clark County and others.

A total of 241 bills were pre-filed ahead of the 2009 session, he said. The pre-filing of bills helps legislative committees get to work right away when the session begins, Malkiewich said.

The Legislature has only 120 days to complete its work unless the governor calls a special session.

Support, Questions, Rejections Follow Call To Broaden Nevada Tax Base Using Expanded Sales Levy

By Sean Whaley | 1:15 pm June 3rd, 2010

CARSON CITY – A proposal to simplify, broaden and stabilize Nevada’s tax base by expanding and reducing the sales tax to include services from haircuts to legal advice is generating some support and plenty of questions from lawmakers and interest groups.

The proposal, presented Tuesday by Geoffrey Lawrence of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, would be revenue neutral and would lower the 6.85 percent state sales tax rate to 3.5 percent. As part of the proposal, the insurance premium tax and the payroll tax paid by businesses would be eliminated as well.

The NPRI proposal would even include food purchases as taxable items, but would also provide tax relief to residents up to the federal poverty line.

One potential challenge to the proposal is that voter approval might be required depending on how such a plan was drafted.

Lawrence, a fiscal policy analyst for NPRI, said his plan is intended to counter what is expected to be a call for a broad-based business tax by at least some members of the Legislature in 2011.

Lawmakers are facing a $3 billion shortfall and are awaiting a study of their own on how to respond to the anticipated revenue shortfall. The study by Moody’s Analytics funded by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee is due to lawmakers later this year.

Lawrence said his plan would stabilize and broaden Nevada’s tax base without further burdening Nevada’s taxpayers, and would also “strengthen our economy by eliminating the job-killing modified business tax.”

The NPRI study found that a corporate income tax is actually one of the least stable tax instruments available to state governments, and is significantly less stable than any tax instrument currently employed in Nevada. Adding a corporate income tax would therefore make the state’s tax structure more, not less, volatile, Lawrence says in his  report titled, “One Sound State, Once Again: Comprehensive fiscal reforms to again make Nevada strong, prosperous and free.”

The study also calls for spending reforms, including a priority-based approach to budgeting and limits on spending increases tied to inflation and population growth.

Several lawmakers commenting on the report have questioned its usefulness given that it is revenue neutral at a time when the Legislature is anticipating a $3 billion hole in the next budget.

But the proposal is a long-term approach to resolving the state’s revenue and spending issues and is not meant to be a quick fix, said Lawrence. A broader sales tax would bring in increasing revenues at the 3.5 percent rate as the Nevada economy recovers.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, said he likes the approach, which follows a flat tax model that he and many voters would support.

“I think most Americans are tired of all these loopholes and exceptions,” he said. “The twisting of tax regulations to benefit a powerful constituency or lobby.”

A straight 3.5 percent tax on consumption would be a stable form of revenue, Goedhart said. There should be no exceptions, he said.

His one objection to the proposal is the provision to provide tax relief to low income residents.

“The cost of government applies to everyone,” said Goedhart, a member of the Assembly Taxation Committee.

Goedhart said such a plan in Nevada could serve as a role model nationally and help generate support for a similar change to the federal income tax.

The Legislature also needs to impose spending controls and look at other reforms, from prevailing wage laws to meaningful changes to the state health insurance and public employee retirement plans, he said.

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, said the study contains valuable information the Legislature can use as it tries to resolve its budget problems next session. But details would have to be spelled out in legislation before any such proposal could win his support, he said.

There are a number of sales tax exemptions currently, such as the one for farm equipment purchases, said Grady, a member of the Assembly Taxation Committee. Surrounding states have exemptions for farm equipment and not offering the same here would put Nevada companies at a disadvantage, he said.

The NPRI research is solid and gives lawmakers a starting point for a tax discussion next session, Grady said.

Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, said the proposal as presented wouldn’t bring in more money even though the state is facing a major revenue shortfall. He also questioned whether such a major change to Nevada’s tax structure could be accomplished in the 120-day session when so many other pressing issues are also on the table.

Add in redistricting and all the new lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly and the task would be challenging, he said.

“It would be a major undertaking,” said Schneider, a member of the Senate Taxation Committee. “I just don’t think, with the way our session is designed, that we can get that work done.”

A special session would probably be the best way to tackle such an issue, but whoever is governor in 2011 probably won’t want to call lawmakers back in for such a task, Schneider said.

Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, questioned how a revenue neutral tax proposal would help solve the state’s budget problems. The budget for the next two years would typically be in the $6.5 billion range, but is expected to be about $3 billion short, he said.

In talking to voters, Aizley said he is asking what services they want protected and what cuts they are willing to accept. Most people wanted education protected, he said.

Aizley, a member of the Assembly Taxation Committee, said he would also need details of what services would be included in an expansion of the sales tax.

“People don’t know the implications,” he said. “I would not say yes to a services tax until it was spelled out what those services would include.”

Aizley also rejected the NPRI call for what he described as a “zero based” budgeting process for state agencies to use. It is time consuming and labor intensive to review every single program every two years when it is clear many programs will have to be continued, he said.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said it is encouraging that even a fiscally conservative group like NPRI is in agreement that the state needs to consider revising its tax structure. But any tax plan that is revenue neutral is not realistic given the $3 billion budget hole facing lawmakers next year, she said.

Leslie also suggested the proposal is not really broadening the tax base, since it is just expanding an existing levy to services such as haircuts or tax preparation.

“I don’t think it is broadening the tax base so much as it is taking out the volatility by taxing more things,” said Leslie, a member of the Assembly Taxation Committee.

By eliminating the payroll tax as part of the plan, it could be argued the tax base would actually be narrowed under the NPRI plan, she said.

“It would reduce the burden on business and increase the burden on the rest of us,” Leslie said. “I think the middle class already pays its fair share.”

The idea of taxing services has been discussed before, both in 2003 and 2009, she said. Such proposals always run into roadblocks when the groups to be included in the tax object, Leslie said.

Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, said she welcomes NPRI to the tax discussion, noting that for a long time the conservative voices in Nevada have suggested that no changes are needed.

But Pierce, who also serves on the Taxation Committee, said sales taxes are regressive and the state already has one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation.

“Making our tax system more regressive is not an improvement,” she said. “I’m not entirely opposed to looking at a sales tax on some services, but not as a substitute for a broad-based business tax.”

Nevada needs to look at how other states that adequately fund their programs and services raise tax revenue and then model itself after those states, Pierce said.

Carole Vilardo, president of the Nevada Taxpayer’s Association, said the proposal needs a great deal of fleshing out so that policymakers can know the implications of what such a change would mean to the state’s tax structure.

Any change to one portion of the sales tax rate, the 2 percent that goes to the state general fund, would need voter approval, she said. Vilardo also questioned whether such a proposal could have an effect on those portions of sales taxes pledged to pay off bonds.

“When you talk taxes, the devil is in the details,” she said.

Legislators React to Governor’s Petition Drive to Create Transparency in Government Labor Negotiations

By Sean Whaley | 3:39 pm May 11th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons announced yesterday he is pursuing an initiative petition to subject labor negotiations between unions and local government entities to the open meeting law to give taxpayers access to the discussions.

Some Republican lawmakers welcomed the idea, saying the Democrat-controlled Legislature has been unwilling to consider such a proposal.

But a state Senate Democrat who will be serving in the 2011 session questioned from a practical standpoint whether the labor negotiation process would work if it had to be in the open and follow the very specific legal dictates of Nevada’s open meeting law.

Gibbons, in announcing his third effort to take an issue to the voters of Nevada, said he is going to the public because the Legislature refused to consider the idea at a special session held earlier this year.

“The objective of this initiative and this process is to open up those negotiations to public scrutiny,” he said.

“We’re taking nothing away from their negotiating abilities,” Gibbons said. “What we’re doing is saying if they are going to deal with taxpayer funds that those negotiations need to be open to the public so people can see, and watch, and understand exactly how those dollars are being spent and why.”

The proposal would repeal an exemption in state law allowing labor negotiations to be conducted behind closed doors. It would require collective bargaining proceedings to be subject to Nevada’s open meeting law, “just like any other meeting where public funds are discussed or spent.”

If Gibbons and his supporters can collect 97,002 valid signatures by a Nov. 9 deadline, the proposed change to state law would go to the 2011 Legislature. If the Legislature failed to enact the proposal, it would go to the voters in 2012.

The initiative effort will be operated independently of the governor’s office. A steering committee for the Gibbons OPEN Government Initiative has already been established that includes Gibbons and former state Sens. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, and Mark Amodei, R-Carson City.

Gibbons said he will work with mayors and other elected officials to ensure the measure has a fair hearing in the Legislature in 2012.

Gibbons said mayors have told him that closed-door negotiations affects their ability to negotiate.

State workers do not have collective bargaining.

When he discussed the initiative with Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman yesterday, Gibbons said the mayor was positive about the concept but said it would have to be reviewed by his staff first.

A spokesman for Goodman acknowledged he did discuss the idea with Gibbons but added that he has to see the proposal first, and run it by the city manager, before offering any comment.

Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, said using the initiative process is the only way conservative lawmakers will get the issue heard.

“We’re not going to get any conservative issues of great substance through this liberal Legislature,” he said. “So going directly to the voters is a good idea.”

“I think it is a great idea in terms of public policy,” said Cobb, who is running for an open state Senate seat in Reno. “There needs to be a lot more transparency to that whole process.”

The Assembly Republican caucus in the special session that ended March 1 wanted such a law as part of a deal on solving the state’s budget crisis, but ultimately saw only a weak and nonbinding resolution on the issue win approval, he said.

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said he too favors transparency in local government labor negotiations. By the time the public finds out what deals have been struck between labor and government management officials, it is weeks after the fact, he said.

“It would require both sides to discuss issues in a more rational way,” Settelmeyer said.

The lawmaker, who is running for an open state Senate seat in the capital region, said he has seen questionable examples locally of school teachers getting small raises while administrators end up with double-digit gains in the closed-door negotiation process.

Since the Legislature would not consider the idea, the initiative petition process may be the only way to go, although Settelmeyer said he would be concerned if too many issues ended up as ballot questions for voters who may not have time to read all the information.

State Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, said labor negotiations go on for months and applying the open meeting law requirements to the process, including meeting notices posted in advance, would not work.

He suggested the move by Gibbons was aimed more at his tough primary election race, a claim Gibbons denied when he announced his proposal.

“People at the negotiating table get mad at each other,” Schneider said. “They yell and scream at each other. Now you have them meeting in the open and having discussions on film. They would be all goody two shoes and nothing would ever get done.”

Schneider said local elected officials have the final say over such agreements and they are the ones who should be held accountable by the voters if the pay and benefit packages being negotiated are too generous.

Gibbons, who is trailing in the polls in the Republican primary to former federal judge Brian Sandoval, said he has been working on the transparency issue for months. But legislative leaders even rejected his request to draft a bill on the subject for the special session, he said.

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said there is nothing in the law now that would preclude a local government agency and collective bargaining unit to bargain in public if the two sides agreed to do so. She also noted that the Legislature in 2009 added an extra step to the collective bargaining process to give the public more opportunity to be informed about labor negotiations.

“Let’s allow the existing law to work,” Warne said.

She also questioned the timing of the Gibbons proposal.

“We believe it is a diversionary tactic on his part,” Warne said. “The real issue is the lack of funding for the public schools in Nevada.”

Brian Johnson, executive director of the Washington DC-based Alliance for Worker Freedom, said the organization always supports transparency, especially when it involves public sector unions where large amounts of taxpayer dollars are at stake.

But Johnson said an even better move would be to eliminate the requirement for collective bargaining altogether.

“Ideally we would not have mandated forced bargaining sessions,” he said. “When you have mandated bargaining, the unions always have the upper hand.”

Even so, Johnson said his group would support Gibbons’ proposal.

“Anytime we can get more transparency, it is at least a step in the right direction,” he said.

The Alliance for Worker Freedom (AWF) was founded in 2003 as a non-partisan organization dedicated to combating anti-worker legislation and to promote free and open markets.

Gibbons has had a track record of success in getting measures qualified for the ballot. He qualified a measure requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes and voters approved it. He then got a proposal on the ballot requiring the Legislature to fund the public education budget before considering other spending requirements during a session. That too won voter approval.

Audio files (broadcasters may re-use these files at will):

Gibbons on his collective bargaining proposal 1

Gibbons on his collective bargaining proposal 2

Gibbons on his collective bargaining proposal 1
Gibbons on his collective bargaining proposal 2

Gibbons Defends Budget Plan, Challenges Nevadans to Provide Alternatives if they Disagree

By Sean Whaley | 4:43 pm February 17th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons today defended his plan to balance the state budget and challenged critics to come forward with workable alternatives if they object to any parts of his proposal.

In formally calling the Legislature into special session on Tuesday to deal with a massive funding shortfall, Gibbons yesterday released his list of proposals to balance the budget. It contains 40 different items, from 10 percent budget cuts to state agencies and education to taking $12.6 million from a scholarship fund.

The proposals cut spending in the current two-year budget by $895 million.

“If anyone else has any ideas on how to fix it, I am listening,” Gibbons said. “This criticism does not recognize that this problem is fixable, and I have presented a plan to fix it.”

The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee will meet tomorrow and Monday to review Gibbons’ budget balancing proposals and review other options available to them.

Gibbons’ call for critics to produce their own solutions received some support today.

Mary Lau, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Nevada, said: “Work together people. If you don’t like this $20 million idea, then come up with a different $20 million idea. Instead we get the immediate response that the governor is mean-spirited. Where is the policy in that?”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, was quoted in the Reno Gazette-Journal as saying: “This governor is mean-spirited and continues to put education last instead of first.”

Horsford said Gibbons has rejected some legislative proposals to reduce spending and instead proposed what he views as unacceptably large cuts to education.

Lau said the state needs productive discussions to get out of the budget crisis, not posturing.

While Gibbons said today his proposal to eliminate some deductions provided to the mining industry to generate $50 million in new revenue to the state is not a tax, Lau disagreed. Bringing more revenue into the state, particularly without the cooperation of the industry, is clearly a tax increase, she said. But she added it may be an effort to bring the industry to the table to forge an agreement on some type of revenue enhancement.

In contrast, Lau said the proposal to ensure sales taxes from purchases made over the Internet are appropriately levied and collected by the state is a legitimate endeavor and not a new tax.

Carole Vilardo, president of the Nevada Taxpayers Association, said Gibbons’ plan is a starting point that at least is on the table for public discussion and comment.

“It has been said by (Gibbons) and the Legislature there are no easy solutions to this,” she said. “I’m sure there are other elements that will surface. If some cuts are considered to be too steep there may be compromise, and cuts may be minimized in one area with greater cuts elsewhere.

“But in an economy like this there is nothing anyone can do that is going to be totally embraced as wonderful,” Vilardo said.

Vilardo agreed that the mining industry proposal is clearly a tax increase. But until details emerge on what “loopholes” Gibbons is proposing to eliminate to generate the new revenue, she had no further comment on the proposal.

Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, acknowledged that Gibbons at least has released a plan to balance the budget.

But he criticized the proposal to sweep the reserve fund that pays for the homeowner association Ombudsman’s Office, a position in the state Real Estate Division that resolves association disputes that Schneider worked to establish in 1997.

The fund is generated by a $3 fee per home per year and is only paid by residents of associations, he said. Taking the fund is the equivalent of levying a tax increase on one segment of the state.

“You can’t sweep that fund,” Schneider said. “It’s not general fund. It is specially set aside to run the ombudsman’s office. That is going to irritate a lot of people.”

The state Budget Office said today that only $500,000 of the $2.7 million in the ombudsman account is being proposed to be used as part of Gibbons’ budget balancing plan, not the entire amount.

Asked for an alternative to the proposal, Schneider said a better way to raise taxes would be to close loopholes in existing law that allow some businesses operating in Nevada to not pay their fair share of taxes to the state.

Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, said Gibbons has put forward a well reasoned plan and deserves credit for doing so.

“I think it is a workable plan if we can get it passed, although the leadership on the other side is not happy with it,” he said. “I think there are quite a few items that they will agree to because we are in trouble.”

Gustavson said he does not support one element: the proposal to use traffic cameras to capture revenue from uninsured motorists. But he acknowledged that he and other lawmakers must now find a way to make up for the $30 million that is proposed to be generated by the program.

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said Gibbons does deserve credit for presenting a plan to balance the budget. But the lawmaker said he still has doubts about some of the components, particularly the proposal to close the Nevada State Prison with the accompanying layoff of 136 employees.

“I don’t know if shutting down NSP is going to save us any money,” he said.

Settelmeyer said he also has questions about whether the Department of Corrections has the space elsewhere in the system to accommodate the NSP inmate population.

“A lot of these proposals are extremely painful cuts,” he said. “The question is can we come up with better alternatives, and if so, will the governor alter the proclamation to include our concepts?”

One point is clear, Settelmeyer said: “Don’t bet on a one-day session.”